Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunset at Batiquitos Lagoon

Sunset Sunday evening in Carlsbad.

I'm always looking for new places to shoot that are close to my house. Since I didn't have a lot of time before sunset, I headed down to Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad, to try shooting looking west. This spot requires following a muddy dirt path that turns into hopping across large boulders, crossing under the freeway, and finding a good spot in the mud next to some fishermen.

The ducks behaved pretty well, as they didn't move around too much and the jet contrail lit up nicely. I packed up my gear after the color seemed to fade from the horizon. But... right after packing, a train passed by on the tracks. Next time I'll have to find out the train schedule and time it better. And then on the hike back to my truck, the sky lit up in pinks and reds. Of course.

Batiquitos Lagoon:

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Sevengill Shark

Since it's raining outside (again) and the swells are up, not the mention the tsunami watch, I decided to take another look at some of my photos. I've been wanting to reprocess this one in black and white and finally got the opportunity. This photo is probably my most well known, since it was included in an article in California Diving News and prominently featured on Mike Bear's Sevengill Sightings Blog, and even made it into the California diving community's Divebums calendar for 2010.

This is a female broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus). According to Mark Ball, Head Aquarist at Birch Aquarium, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA, she was around the maximum size of 9 ft long (we didn't stop to measure her). They are named for their unique number of gills, as most sharks only have 5 gills. They are found along the west coast, with a higher concentration in Northern California, where San Francisco Bay acts as a shelter for young.

Barbara Lloyd ( and I encountered this shark while diving as a team in the kelp forests off Pt. Loma, CA. We did one dive shooting macro subjects and then switched to wide angle for the second dive. About 30 minutes into the second dive, after photographing Barbara shooting video and the kelp forest, the large shark appeared out of nowhere. I got off a few quick shots, but was not prepared for it. Barbara and I were both extremely excited to have seen it and very apprehensive at the same time. My pulse sped up and I became much more alert to my surroundings. We both kept looking behind us just in case the shark was going to sneak up on us. Apparently, Barbara's frantic motioning meant she wanted us to watch each other's backs.

Approximately 3 minutes later, the shark came by for another pass. Barbara and I were both ready for it this time. The shark was level with us in the water, providing a nicer background of the kelp forest instead of shooting down towards the sea bottom. However, realizing that the shark was interested in us and wasn't put off by our noisy bubbles and bright flashing lights was not a comforting thought.

The final pass by the 9 foot sevengill was approximately 7 minutes later. At this point, I was getting nervous and concerned that the shark was a little too interested. Not knowing the exact species at the time and how dangerous they were (or weren't, in this case), we decided it was time to start heading for the surface. The entire time we were returning to the surface, I kept thinking "...sharks like to attack from below". There was a thick layer of green gloom near the surface, which made it even more difficult to see anything below us. We did our safety stop and got back onto the boat without any problems, except for our jealous friends who hadn't seen the shark on their dive. Much later, while reviewing my photos from earlier in the dive, I noticed a dark shadow of a shark tail in the corner of one of them. Apparently, the shark had been with us a lot longer than we knew about.

I'll never forget that dive and what could have been a once in a lifetime encounter with a large apex predator. After reading more about the behavior of sevengill sharks, I wouldn't mind seeing one in the wild again.

Pt. Loma kelp forests:

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dive report - Shaws Cove, Laguna Beach 2/19/2010

Date: 2/19/10
Location: Shaws Cove, Laguna Beach
Time in: 9:31 am
Time under: 61 min
Max depth: 21 ft
Min temp: 61.5 F
Vis: 5-10 ft in some places
Waves: 1-3 ft with the occasional large wave
Buddy: pony bottle

First dive in 2 months! I spent the whole hour in the large crevice with the Hopkins roses. I also saw a colorful polyclad flatworm (Stylochus insolitus) and a Cockerell's Dorid (Laila cockerelli). I stayed outside the area of the first choke point, where the surge starts to get really strong. The were a large number of waves in each set (4-5?), so I had to time photos in between the surge. I'm really glad I got the dive in before the storm and large waves came in.

For this dive, I was focused on dialing in my macro photography, since I'm out of practice (and wide angle was out of the question). I spent the time needed to get the lighting from my strobes where I wanted it. With the Ikelite housing set to normal TTL, it is usually too bright even at 1/250s, f/20. For most of these shots, the TTL knob was set to -1 or darker.

I searched for the larger Hopkins roses that were not flat against the vertical wall, in order to use the depth of field and shadows to highlight the subject.

Hopkin's Rose (Hopkinsia rosacea)

For the Cockerell's dorid, it was so small that I couldn't tell which orange spot was the rhinophores, but fortunately, I got the whole nudibranch in focus.

Cockerell's Dorid (Laila cockerelli)

For the featherduster worms, I had to find one that wasn't light sensitive. Typically, they retract as soon as you shine a light on them. They are also very sensitive to water movement. This one stayed extended for a few shots and allowed me to get relatively close.

Featherduster worms

Shaws Cove, Laguna Beach:

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More photos up at:


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bolsa Chica birds at sunrise

Scott Gietler ( and I got up early Monday morning and met at Bolsa Chica wetlands in Huntington Beach to do some birding. We arrived just past sunrise. There were still large pools of water near the entrance from all the recent rain, so if you go for a walk there, expect to get a little muddy.

The highlight was seeing the great blue herons (Ardea herodias) building nests and hearing them croaking in the trees. Every once in a while, one would swoop down onto the ground, pick up some branches and carry them back to the new nest.

Nearby a crowd gathered to photograph a great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) nest with eggs. Everyone is waiting to see the babies. It was at the limit of the my 300mm telephoto, but I was able to crop it a bit without losing too much sharpness.

The snowy egrets (Egretta thula) were out in number as well, looking very majestic. Overall, it was a beautiful morning with good company.

Parking lot for Bolsa Chica Conservancy:

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Break in the storm

After shooting La Jolla Cove during the day on Saturday, I ventured further south along the coast, hoping to catch the sun popping out under the clouds during a break in the storm. It popped, but not quite the way I was expecting. I caught these sun beams shining down on the horizon about 20 minutes before sunset. Soon after this photo, it started raining again. The sun made one more brief appearance before slipping into the ocean and then heavier rain started coming down.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Caught in the storm - Animals at La Jolla Shores

California is experiencing more storms and rain this year than we have in some of the previous years combined due to an 'El Nino' condition in the Pacific Ocean. The jet stream is dipping south and delivering strong winter storms that usually stay farther north in Oregon and Washington. These constant (for us) storms have come with strong winds and even a few tornadoes.

This has taken a toll on the wildlife that survives along the coastline. While visiting La Jolla Cove this past Saturday (in between storms), there were at least 6 dead pelicans scattered around a bluff where they usually congregate.

Even the California sea lions were massed on a small rock all trying to rest. Every once in a while, another one or two would swim up and attempt to jump up onto the rock during a swell, often falling back into the water.

More wildlife: